Prophecy in the New Covenant, Part One

This two-part series was posted by my blogging colleague, Marv, over at our co-blog, To Be Continued. It was a good two-post blog and so I wanted to re-post it here as well.

Be careful what you ask for. You might get it.

Sinai. Year One of the new Nation constituted by YHWH Himself, for His own purposes. Yesterday they were an ethnic group, an agglomeration of clans and tribes, united by common ancestry: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. In the incubator of Egyptian bondage they had been fruitful and multiplied. Then, through Moses, YHWH came to take them to Himself:

You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. (Exodus 19:4 ESV)

They saw it for themselves.

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:5-6 ESV)

Moses heard and spoke these words to the people. But YHWH wanted the people to hear Him themselves.

All the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD. And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.” (Exodus 19:8-9 ESV)

He then delivered His law before them, and they both saw and heard. But they were afraid of His fire and His voice and did not want to hear it themselves.

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:18-21 ESV)

A decisive moment. Called to faith, they responded with fear. Privileged to hear the voice of God, they rejected that privilege. Though they themselves were to be a “kingdom of priests,” they wanted an intermediary. God gave them what they asked for.

Moses continued as intermediary, God’s prophet for them. Through the years that followed He sent other prophets, other intermediaries, until the time when He sent THE Prophet, His Son.

 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. (Deuteronomy 18:15-18 ESV)

God’s grace shone through, but we can wonder what might have been for the generations to come, if the people on that day had not asked not to hear God’s voice. Understand, it folded into God’s sovereign plan, but He says He would speak through an intermediary and not to them, because they had asked for this.  But the arrangement came with strict specifications, both for the people and for the intermediary:

 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ (Deuteronomy 18:19-20 ESV)

Severe consequences on both sides, but they had what they asked for. And they promised to heed the word of God’s prophet, though they no longer saw the manifestation of God’s glory or heard his voice. They had the Word through the prophets, and then the Prophet Himself, but the people failed:

 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:37-40 ESV)

But with the Son comes something different, the New Covenant.

 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33 ESV)

Though some of this is “not yet,” there is an “already” in the Body of Christ, through the Holy Spirit:

 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:3-6 ESV)

And in this New Covenant, through the Son of God, the Holy Spirit is poured out on all believers, starting with Pentecost. The arrangement to which God agreed at Sinai is reversed. He came again in sound and fire:

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. (Acts 2:2-3 ESV)

All God’s people can henceforth hear His voice.:

 And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18 ESV)

Moses himself had foreshadowed this situation:

 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29 ESV)

So He has now done. A profoundly fundamental distinction of the Body of Christ to the nation of Israel under the Old Covenant is the Spirit poured out on all and His voice now present to all. How would the experience of Israel been different had they not rejected His voice? We may not know, but we do know how it is different today.

In the first place, the severity of the Deuteronomy 18 consequences were based on the people’s unwillingness to hear, to which God acquiesced:

 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:19-22 ESV)

In the Body of Christ, now that “all God’s people are prophets,” the dynamics are very different, since all can hear for themselves:

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. (1 Corinthians 14:1-5; 24-25; 29-33 ESV)

Now questions are frequently asked about prophecy in the Body of Christ, whether the words spoken out are infallable or inerrant as the Scriptures are; whether any inaccuracies are tantamount to false prophecy; whether the dire penalties of Deuteronomy 18, or some similarly serious consequence be directed to the one so prophesying imperfectly.

This I intend to address in the second part.

3 thoughts on “Prophecy in the New Covenant, Part One

  1. I’m curious if you believe that the word “prophecy” means to give any word from God, or if it concerns strictly future events. I think most people are uncomfortable talking about this subject because for most, prophecy means to tell the future, which leaves room for a great deal of confusion and error in regards to source, motivation and interpretation.

    I believe a better understanding of the word “prophecy” is to give a word from the Lord, about ANYTHING, not just future events. I guess it would be better translated as to “speak for God”. If we have Christ within us, we all have the potential to be a speaker for God, in relating what He places on our hearts.

    So, in the context of the I Cor 14, to speak in tongues (to speak a foreign language) was a word from God for one person (the one who can only understand that language) unless there was an interpreter to share that word with all. While to prophecy (speak for God in the common language) could be for everyone, could edify everyone. Therefore, it makes sense that prophesying is of greater relevance when spoken in the church than tongues is (unless there is an interpreter.) It’s not a better GIFT, it just does more for those hearing it.

    And to pre-answer your question, I don’t think prophesying as a gift can be considered inherant. It seems one should take the word given and consider it, compare it with God’s character as seen through scripture, and pray about it before just blindly following it. That’s just sound judgement.

  2. I would say it is a misnomer to consider prophecy as only predictive. I’m not saying you hold to that, as your comment seems to say you do not; I am just away many people hold to that view. Prophecy, first and foremost, is about God speaking a message to people through people, whatever the nature of that message might be. Hence why 1 Cor 14:3 is a helpful pointer to the nature of prophecy in the new covenant. Prophecy can be predictive, but not always, nor is that its central aspect.

    • Good. Then we agree. In addition to asking your opinion, my post is meant to point out why most mainstream Christians have a problem with prophecy being an active gift. It’s almost thought of as akin to palm reading and fortune telling. People get spooked when they think about telling of the future, and most people think of prophecy as ONLY that. I think education is necessary to change that perception of the word, and then people won’t be scared off by the thought of someone prophesying to them, in church, small groups or one on one.

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